On Monday morning, 26 April 2021 the SA Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher, the fascinating story of a man’s bond with an Octopus won an Oscar at the 93rd Academy Awards in Los Angeles, for Best Documentary Film feature. The proudly South African documentary was up against some tough competition.
The film, which has won more than 20 international awards, including Best Documentary at the British Academy Film Awards and Producers Guild of America Awards becomes the first nature documentary to win an Academy Award since The Cove in 2010.
Co-director Pippa Ehrlich, who accepted the iconic gold statuette at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles with co-director James Reed, said she is “utterly overwhelmed” with “an honour we never dreamed possible”. “In many ways this is a tiny personal story that played out in sea forest at the very tip of Africa, but on a more universal level I hope it provided a glimpse of a different type of relationship between human beings and the natural world.”
This is the first Netflix Original Documentary to come out of South Africa. It was released to instant acclaim during the global Covid-19 lockdown. Directed by Ehrlich and Reed and produced by Foster, My Octopus Teacher is the culmination of a decade of hard work and dedication to showcasing The Great African Seaforest and the creatures that live in it.
“In a difficult year, when many of us were stuck inside, feeling afraid and confused, a positive story that transports you to a magical world has a powerful appeal. Parts of this story are universal to almost every person on Earth – love and friendship, and connection and hope. It’s about nature, but it’s also a very powerful, archetypal story that helps us make sense of the world,” Ehrlich said.
The unexpected documentary was filmed in Cape Town and followed how a tiny octopus formed a bond with free-diver Craig Foster while diving near his home in False Bay. Foster, a documentary filmmaker for 28 years, said the Oscar victory brings life-affirming kudos to the media advocacy work by the film’s producing entity the Sea Change Project, which he co-founded with My Octopus Teacher associate producer Ross Frylinck in 2012.
“The Academy Award elevates the Great African Sea Forest and surrounding ocean of SA into global iconic status. This is excellent news for us because it underlines what we have been aiming for: to show the world we are sitting on a biodiversity treasure trove that is deeply worthy of protection.”
Foster said the most exciting aspect for their organisation has been the feedback received.
“We have received thousands of messages from people around the world. Many have started diving, studying marine sciences or using My Octopus Teacher as a tool in mental health workshops and in discussions around emotional ecology and deep nature connection. We wanted to showcase this wonderful ecosystem, the Great African Sea Forest, to the world, and we have succeeded,” he said.